finished seventh out of 21,023 runners.
But his brother was an outspoken opponent of the ruling party, and when Emiru
returned to Ethiopia he was arrested and
beaten. He emerged with a broken ankle,
a bruised back and a dim future.
After obtaining a visa reserved for
athletes and entertainers, Emiru moved
here a year later and met Sugarman
when he sought treatment at her medi-
cal clinic. Some days he works two full
shifts, 16 hours, as a valet parker just to
get by. “I’m working double,” he says. “If
I’m working only eight hours I cannot
Alan Parra, a human rights lawyer in
Silver Spring who joined our conversa-
tion, adds: “So many runners when they
come here, they don’t have any type of
support. Emiru falls into that category.
The reality of surviving causes a lot of
everything,” says Sugarman.
And they need a lot of help. She’s
coaxed colleagues, from orthopedists to
massage therapists, to donate their services to the Black Lions. Balance Gym
in D.C. provides free memberships. RnJ
Sports supplies running shoes. “I have
this Rolodex in my head of free specialists,” she says.
Several of the exiles have settled in
Montgomery County, and the doctor
and I met three of them one Sunday evening at a café in downtown Silver Spring,
the center of the county’s Ethiopian
community. One-third of the county is
foreign born, but in this neighborhood
the percentage is much higher.
One of the runners is Mekonnen
Emiru, a soft-spoken man of 34, who
first came to America in 2011 to com-
pete in the Marine Corps Marathon and
them to wind up quitting.”
Now the possibility of competing
in the Olympics has given Emiru and
the other Black Lions a burst of hope.
A small one. In order to qualify, each
runner has to meet performance stan-
dards set by an international panel, and
given their lingering injuries and lack of
training, that will be difficult.
But they are running again. They are
living again. They are finding their footing
in their new country. When I ask Sugar-
man if reaching for Rio is as important as
getting there, she answers quickly.
“Completely,” she says. “Completely.” n
Steve Roberts teaches politics and
journalism at George Washington University. This column was suggested by a
reader; send ideas for future columns to
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